Backstage: ‘I love a great story told honestly’

Vilma Silva has portrayed such iconic characters as Portia in “The Merchant of Venice,” Julius Caesar in “Julius Caesar,” and Katherina in “The Taming of the Shrew” during her 23 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

After graduating from Santa Clara University, Silva performed with El Teatro Campesino and the American Conservatory Theatre before coming to Ashland for her first OSF role in “Blood Wedding.” This season, she is Armida in “Mojada” and Mistress Page in “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” We got together at Bloomsbury Coffee House in Ashland.

EH: How do you create such real people on stage?

VS: I always start with what’s on the page. Then, it’s looking at the people who you’re going to be saying these things to. There are going to be clues — in how to make them see things your way — to make them do what you want them to do. That’s going to come from the other actors. And certainly, there are things in one’s life that you can draw upon.EH: What are the elements that make a great play?

VS: I love a great story told honestly, something that’s engaging, with a kind of simplicity and purity. I love a great entertainment as well, but I’m really compelled by a great story, where you get pulled in. Great puzzles, great mysteries, are compelling to me — or if something completely surprises me — I love being taken out of myself, being drawn into a great story.

Sometimes I’ve done plays that I thought were wonderful scripts, and they somehow didn’t work out. Sometimes you get lost in how you tell the story, or what the external elements are.

When I look out at the audience, and I feel that kind of energy coming at us — where people forget where they are — then, I know that we’re doing well.

EH: What’s unique about communication between actors?

VS: Sometimes you get plunked down in a theater with people that you’ve never worked with before and, for some reason, it just clicks. If you’re lucky enough, you develop those relationships very quickly. Professionally we all know that we’re going to try to tell a story and convince the audience members that we have these relationships, that we are much closer than we actually are — as people off-stage. We know that’s the goal. Sometimes it’s more work, and sometimes it’s less work. Sometimes it’s just easier, we call it chemistry. And sometimes it’s surprising, and it’s really fun. And you cut through all that back-story and you’re there together, and it works.

When you have a company like this one, where it’s built over years (so many years of doing something like this is going to give you perspective anyway) and then, when you happen to have people around you, who have shared specific experiences, it’s a lot of fun. There is a kind of security: You know each other, you like each other, you know each other’s kids and homes. It’s a much bigger life, and the perspective runs very deep and very wide.

One of my favorite plays to do was “The Taming of the Shrew” with Michael Elich. The response was so tremendous. I think the most fun is when everybody in the theater is part of the fun. It’s so great when your audience is with you.

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